More than a decade ago, Minnesota lawmakers, prosecutors and judges overhauled the juvenile justice system. Locking kids up, routine for some offenses like truancy and shoplifting in the 1990s, became a last resort in many counties. The emphasis shifted to rehabilitation, steering teens toward community-based programs like mental health counseling, mentorship and job skills training. Reforms spared tens of thousands of children a criminal record, especially Blacks, who were far more likely than whites to be arrested and confined to locked detention centers. A Minneapolis Star Tribune examination of hundreds of juvenile-court records finds that the new approach is failing to intervene effectively n the lives of Minnesota's most troubled kids, often despite anguished pleas from parents.
In the last four years, about 30 percent of youth arrests in Minneapolis and St. Paul were teens who had been arrested at least one time in the previous year by the same agency. In Minneapolis, 22 children were either arrested or sought in connection with six or more carjackings or robberies since January 2020. Some suspects were as young as 12 or 13. In two years, 49 youth were suspected or arrested in at least one carjacking offense by Minneapolis police. Many had been suspected or arrested in previous carjackings, which sometimes occur in quick succession. Even after children are prosecuted in county courts, they reoffend at alarmingly high rates. In 2020 in Hennepin County, 40 percent of youth who were adjudicated delinquent by a judge were charged with new crimes within 12 months. The recidivism rate is similarly high for Hennepin County youth who are supervised by probation officers. In Minneapolis, a startling two-thirds of minors arrested for carjackings between June 2020 and last November had at least one other arrest in the previous year.